Baseball

It’s drought or deluge offensively with this team, and it seems like we can’t keep the offense going for many games in a row before it completely dries out. The 15-2 win was fun, especially after the 16-run game last series, but once again even somewhat-competent pitching and fielding held the Cubs off the scoreboard and the win sheet for the most part. Here come the game recaps.

April 23, 2021
Cubs 15, Brewers 2
WP: Hendricks (1-2) LP: Anderson (2-2)
Box Score

Phew, this game was blown wide open real quick. The bottom of the 1st inning saw a Kris Bryant double, an Anthony Rizzo double to score Bryant, a Javier Baez single, a pitching change, a David Bote single to score Rizzo, a Jason Heyward walk, a Jake Marisnick double to score Baez, Bote, and Heyward, a Nico Hoerner double to score Marisnick, and then two strikeouts. It was a wild one, putting the Cubs up 6-0 faster than I could’ve written in more detail.

Brewers starter Brett Anderson left the game officially in the 2nd inning after tweaking his knee. His replacement, Josh Lindblom, just couldn’t stop allowing hits. The bottom of the 2nd was just as head-spinning as the 1st, with back-to-back solo homers from Rizzo and Baez, a Bote walk, a Heyward triple to score Bote, a Marisnick RBI, a Hoerner walk…and then Kyle Hendricks struck out for the second inning in a row, ending the fun.

Jake Marisnick had himself a day, with 2 hits (one a solo homer in the 4th inning), 2 runs, and 5 RBIs. The Cubs utility players continue to shine, which is impressive because offensively they seem to almost regularly be better than the starters they occasionally replace. Something to keep an eye on.

Meanwhile, on the defensive end of things, Kyle Hendricks had a solid outing, especially compared to his less-than-stellar last outing. He had 6 strikeouts, 6 hits, 2 runs, and 1 walk. He allowed two back-to-back solo Brewers homers in the 6th, but the Cubs had already run away with the game. The Cubs also assisted by giving Hendricks four insurance runs in the bottom of the inning thanks to two walks, a double, and a three-run Contreras homer.

Even after Hendricks was pulled in the 7th inning, the bullpen did a good job of limiting runs. Together, Kyle Ryan and Dillon Maples combined for 0 runs, only 1 hit, 1 walk, and 3 strikeouts. Other bullpen outings later on in this series would not have numbers this pretty.

April 24, 2021
Cubs 3, Brewers 4
WP: Suter (2-1) LP: Chafin (0-1)
Box Score

Baez got the day off today as Nico Hoerner makes his season debut at shortstop and Eric Sogard starts at second base. Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain were out for the Brewers, and with Adbert Alzolay starting for the Cubs, it was written on the wall this would be a dicey game on both sides.

The Brewers led off the game with a double and a walk, and the base runners were able to advance to second and third after a lineout in the outfield. However, the Cubs were able to get out of that one-out jam and started producing offensively in the 3rd inning. After a few Cubs singles, Nico Hoerner was able to double to score both Jason Heyward at third base and Eric Sogard at second base, starting to cement himself as one of the few Cubs players that can consistently bat in runners at the moment. Although this series constituted his first three MLB appearances of the year, he has stellar numbers so far: .700 OBP, 1.000 SLG, 1.700 OPS.

The pitchers essentially dueled through the 4th inning. By the 5th inning, Alzolay allowed a double and then a walk on two outs. He got switched out for Rex Brothers, and then it was time for the Cubs bullpen to blow the game. Brothers allowed three straight walks to have the Brewers tie it up 2-2 with two unearned runs.

Brothers was yanked immediately following that inning, which is good because two walks and a hit by pitch on two outs to allow the other team to tie the game should be an unacceptable situation. He was replaced by Brandon Workman, who got out of the inning with no runs added. Andrew Chafin, who up until this game had a respectable 3.24 ERA, pitched the 7th and allowed a two-run homer to give the Brewers the lead. After a fielding error, he was replaced by Tepera who gave up a single but then struck out Jackie Bradley Jr.

Meanwhile, the Cubs couldn’t generate any offense or bat any runners in from scoring position. Jason Heyward was able to solo homer in the 8th inning to put the Cubs within one, and it all came down to the bottom of the 9th inning, where Brewers closer Josh Hader was able to end the game quickly and easily. He walked Hoerner, getting him to first base, and after an egregious strike call by the umpire, David Ross got ejected. Marisnick was obviously elsewhere from a mental standpoint for the rest of the at-bat, as he whiffed on the next two pitches and got struck out. Happ was then struck out, and Willson Conteras, the usual big hitter on the team who went 0 for 4 today, flied out to end the game.

April 25, 2021
Cubs 0, Brewers 6
WP: Woodruff (2-0) LP: Arrieta (3-2)
Box Score

Arrieta got into a 1st-inning jam that the Cubs couldn’t recover from. He only allowed one run and was able to get out of a dangerous bases-loaded situation, but with Woodruff pitching for the Brewers, the Cubs couldn’t muster up enough offense to even make it an interesting game.

Even after Arrieta’s 1st-inning, 27-pitch blunder, he was pretty good for the rest of the game, getting out of one other jam in the 6th but overall getting 8 strikeouts and allowing no other runs. The bullpen, however, continues to be a weak spot for this Cubs team, as Alec Mills couldn’t find the zone for the life of him, not being able to strike anyone out. He allowed 2 hits and no walks, however, which was enough to keep the Cubs in it, even if their offense didn’t follow through.

Things unraveled quickly in the 9th inning when Adam replaced Mills and gave up a double, two walks, a single and a double back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Maples replaced him in a no-out, bases loaded situation and got two strikeouts, but also walked a guy and hit a guy which forced two more runners to score, giving us the final score of the game, 6-0 Brewers.

Additionally, Hoerner looked pretty good this game, being a part of a big double play in the 8th inning and generally playing good defense. He had no hits today, but that is how it went for most of this team. People justified Ross sending him down because he was still young and perhaps not yet ready for the MLB, but he seems plenty ready to me, and injecting a new young player into this team might just be what these guys need to feel more invigorated and maybe try to string together a few more wins in a row.

Next team up in the never-ending barrage of baseball games come the Atlanta Braves and the start of a 7-game road trip for our Cubbies. The Braves continue to not live up to their preseason expectations, as they are still a sub-.500 team who just got trounced today by the Arizona Diamondbacks, allowing the Diamondbacks’ pitcher to get an unofficial 7-inning no-hitter against them. The Diamondbacks blanked them yesterday, too, to the tune of 5-0.

That’s right everyone: the Braves have one (1) singular hit over the past two games. Despite this, the Braves still technically have a better team slash line than the Cubs: .228/.323/.424 vs. .213/.308/.395. This upcoming series will likely be the Battle of Bad Offense, as we will watch to see whose bats will break through first. See you then, unless you’d rather be tuned into late-season hockey, in which case I wouldn’t blame you.

Hockey

This season has been nothing but a clownshow thus far. What does a 13-run game mean for the Cubs when the Braves can turn right around the next day and score 13 runs right back? The Braves themselves were severely underperforming to start the season like we were, but they obviously came out the better team here, and now I’m wondering if we’ll ever win against anybody ever again. Nothing like being a pessimistic Cubs fan to remind you there’s no bright side to this season so far.

If you’re lucky enough to not spend your free time watching this garbage team play and you only make yourself susceptible to it through my overly descriptive writing, be glad. This team is legitimately awful and not fun at all to watch. Even during the second game of the series where they were offensively competent, we were all thinking in the back of our minds that the fun couldn’t last long, and it didn’t. Let’s look at the games.

April 16, 2021
Cubs 2, Braves 5
WP: Tomlin (2-0) LP: Davies (1-2)
Box Score

Zach Davies was the starter, lobbing balls over the plate and only getting one strikeout the whole game, early in the 2nd inning.

The Cubs were able to get on the board in the 2nd thanks to Javier Baez getting hit by a pitch. Eric Sogard was able to make himself useful despite his .120 batting average, RBI-ing Baez to give the Cubs the lead.

However, going up one run early only to squander it with no more offense to be seen for the rest of the game is something the Cubs do quite easily. By the 3rd inning, Davies’ walks came back to haunt him when Travis d’Arnaud hit the ball to left field and Joc Pederson dropped the ball while trying to field it, allowing a runner to score.

Ronald Acuna Jr. has one and a half times the batting average of our best batter, Kris Bryant, and showed how helpful it can be to have hits that aren’t just solo shot home runs all the time. He hit a pitch to the outfield in the 4th inning, allowing the Braves to score two runners.

After four straight Braves hits, Baez slipped while fielding a ball with two outs in the 4th. He could’ve dived to second base, just a few feet away from him, to end the inning. Instead he threw to first base, which did nothing because the runner was already safe. The very next at-bat, Baez fell while fielding another hit and made a really bad throw to the plate that ended up popping out of Contreras’s glove. Suddenly it was 4-1 Braves and they never looked back.

Contreras was the other hitter of the game with a (who could’ve guessed) solo shot home run in the 5th inning. He also was part of a big double play throw in the 5th to get Guillermo Heredia caught stealing at third base. He was the best player on the Cubs by far, and did we mention he got hit by another pitch this game? It never ends for this guy.

The Braves were able to extend their lead back to three in the 7th, however, with a sacrifice fly ball by Ehire Adrianza. The Cubs were never able to get back, although they once again had a 2-out “rally” in the 9th where they had bases loaded and a home run could win them the game…and then it ended with an amazing flop as Pederson struck out swinging. Some upgrade from Kyle Schwarber he was, huh?

April 17, 2021
Cubs 13, Braves 4
WP: Williams (2-1) LP: Ynoa (0-1)
Box Score

This game started out the way we’ve seen too many of these games start: first an early-inning home run, again from Contreras. But unlike the games in the past, the Cubs’ offense actually crushed it today, making up for the lack of offense all season. The Cubs scored runs in back-to-back innings for the first time since April 3rd and scored runs in three straight innings for the first time all season.

Contreras had two home runs in the first 3 innings of this game, meaning at this time he had hit 4 of the last 5 Cubs home runs, and can claim home runs in three straight games. David Bote, who has the worst batting average of all Cubs starters, hit a double RBI in the 2nd inning. Couple that with a walk, a Bryant single and a 3-run homer by a suddenly rejuvenated Baez, and it was 6-0 Cubs.

Both Bryant and Bote homered in the 5th inning, RBI-ing three other guys combined. Bryant had a second homer in the 6th, scoring Anthony Rizzo. Overall, the Cubs had 14 total hits (highest of the season so far) and 13 RBIs (more than doubling the Cubs’ second-best RBI number this season at 5). Bryant and Rizzo led the team with three hits each. The Cubs jumped from a .166 batting average before this game to a .184 batting average after an over two-week-long narrative that the bats just weren’t happening for this team.

It was another start for Trevor Williams today, and he had 4 strikeouts, 4 hits and 3 walks. He worked himself almost into a jam in the 2nd inning with Braves runners on second and third and only 1 out, but he then worked himself back out of it quite quickly by striking out the next two batters to keep the Braves off the board. Williams played 5 full innings, getting pulled when he loaded up the bases in the 6th. Ryan Tepera replaced him, and although the Braves were able to make contact off his pitches, the Cubs defense was able to get out of that inning only allowing one Braves run.

By the 7th inning, the bullpen wasn’t spectacular, but when you’re up 11 runs you can usually just let the bullpen do whatever it wants and you can still win the game. The Cubs…well, they just rolled out everybody, as Shelby Miller, Brandon Workman, Dan Winkler and Jason Adam all saw an inning (or less). Miller gave up 3 hits for 3 runs, had 2 walks and only 1 strikeout, but also got the save. The rest of the bullpen combined for no hits, no runs, no strikeouts and only one walk.

April 18, 2021
Cubs 4, Braves 13
WP: Wilson (1-0) LP: Hendricks (0-2)
Box Score

Thought the Cubs would build off their solid offensive game from yesterday? Slow down there, cowboy. Despite Kyle Hendricks coming back from what seemed to be a very minor illness, the top of the 1st inning was an absolute nightmare, as he gave up 6 runs to Atlanta off of 4 homers. Hendricks also gave up two walks in that inning, and three total all game. He only stayed in for 4 innings and had only two strikeouts. In that 1st inning, he didn’t even give the defense behind him a chance to help out because he was just walking people and letting people homer. It was a really rough outing.

Rizzo, however, decided to try his best to get the Cubs back into this. After a double play to start out the bottom of the inning, Rizzo hit a solo homer to right. (He would also homer later in the 3rd to the Cubs’ third of four total runs this game.) The Cubs tried their best to continue the rally by hitting a single, drawing a walk, and hitting another RBI single, but then Jason Heyward grounded out to end the inning.

Even though Braves heavy hitter Ronald Acuna Jr. left the game in the 4th inning because of abdominal muscle pain after sliding into the place weirdly, the Braves didn’t miss him offensively at all. Alec Mills replaced Hendricks to begin the 5th inning, and he only lasted that full inning before he got pulled. Mills allowed three singles, two doubles, and a walk during the 5th and for the first three batters in the 6th, where he recorded no outs.

Ryan Tepera replaced Mills; he has a knack for hitting people with his pitches because he hit two of the first three batters he faced. He also allowed a sacrifice fly to put the Braves up 9-3. And then he allowed a grand slam to put the Braves up 13-3. Remember how he appealed his three-game suspension after the last Brewers series to keep playing for the Cubs in the meantime? That turned out real swell.

The Cubs tried to build a mini rally at the bottom of the 6th even though the damage was already done. Bryant walked and Pederson was able to hit a single to drive him to third base in scoring position. But if you thought Baez was going to do anything other than completely whiffing at every pitch way out of the strike zone in this situation, you’d be wrong. Jason Heyward and Bote struck out right after him, quickly ending the mini rally.

By the 8th inning, Baez actually hit the ball for once, and it happened after Pederson tripled in a two-out situation, meaning he was offensively productive for once. Just a few more feet and it would’ve been a homer. Then the Cubs decided to waste a 9th inning outing on Craig Kimbrel because why not at this point. He even put up a below-average performance also, walking two batters and striking out only one.

It’s been less than a month and this season is already in a nearly unwatchable slog. But I do it for you all so you don’t have to. And up next is a three-game series against the New York Mets, who find themselves with a 7-4 record atop the NL East and can boast to having pitchers such as Jacob deGrom…oh wait, the Mets defense has squandered 2 of his 3 starts so far this season. This series should be nothing but more of the same top-tier entertainment. See you all when it’s over with.

Baseball

Hi everyone! My name is Summer and I am now a Hawks and Cubs writer for this fair website. Today I will be breaking down the almost-entirely-disgraceful offseason plays made so far by the billionaire ownership of a certain north side baseball team. Feel bad for the billionaire ownership, okay? They are hurting in the pandemic too! Billionaires can no longer afford to pay any of your favorite players, and when they can you should be glad they looked in their couch cushions and scrounged up the pocket change!

The Cubs will be a different team this year and it’s probably going to suck. Let’s go on a quick rundown of some key signings and departures so far this offseason.

Goodbyes

Yu Darvish featuring Victor Caratini

This is probably the most horrendous trade I’ve ever seen in my life. (I’m still young and relatively new to Cubs baseball, so if there’s been a worse trade than this one in recent Cubs memory don’t get your pants all knotted up.) Yu Darvish was a Cy Young finalist and the only glimmer of hope in the entire pitching roster. The only one who was consistently fun to watch. And the Cubs traded him away for the inferior Zach Davies and a bunch of question mark prospects. What could be more Cubs than that?

Catch me cheering on Darvish and his personal catcher Victor Caratini to beat the Dodgers and hopefully head to the World Series this season because we sure aren’t.

Jon Lester

Yes, we will miss him. Yes, he threw alright for us last season, but he is probably getting too old. His velocity will probably continue to decline, and things could get ugly real fast from there. But then you remember that he was willing to return to the Cubs and sign the cheapest possible contract, and ownership said no. Amazing.

Kyle Schwarber

Another World Series piece going the way of the wind, but nobody cares anymore because he was bad in the outfield and couldn’t hit at all last season. (But then again, could anyone hit outside of Ian Happ?)

Other Releases/Free Agents of Lesser Import: Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood, Jeremy Jeffress, Mark Zagunis, Jason Kipnis, Daniel Descalso, Pedro Strop, Albert Almora

Hellos

Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant

Boy howdy am I glad these guys are back again. Baez is my favorite player, but he was awful last season and couldn’t hit a beach ball. We should’ve traded Kris Bryant last offseason when he would get even sort of a return, but of course we didn’t, and now we’re trying to shop him when his value is at zero. At least Rizzo will probably retire here, beloved by every Cubs fan.

Willson Contreras

Whew! That was a funny one there, Rickettses, right after you enraged your entire fanbase by trading Darvish away (along with his incredibly competent catcher in Caratini) and then suddenly rumors were swirling about you guys trading Contreras. He is one of the best catchers in the league, and also one of the few players on this God-forsaken team that was doing any measure of hitting last season. Our catching rotation would be going down the tubes with our pitching rotation if this guy had left, but luckily, they signed him. Right?

Austin Romine

Please welcome our new backup catcher, I guess? Starting catcher if the Cubs decide to trade Contreras anyway? Romine is the definition of mediocre, and his .238 batting average tells you he’s not known for his hitting. Which is good because why would the Cubs want to be looking for hitters anyway after they hit so well last season?

Max Schrock

Speaking of acquisitions who can’t hit…

Zach Davies

Everyone is still—and probably always will be—angry about the Yu Darvish trade. Davies is the one player we got back in that trade who is useful now. Last year, he sported a 2.73 ERA and an over .600 winning percentage! When you look at his average ERA over his past six seasons in the MLB, it’s actually 3.79, but that is still good enough to put him as one of the better starting pitchers in this Cubs lineup. Hopefully he doesn’t blow it.

Robert Stock

ZOOM! This dude throws fast but apparently doesn’t have the whole “control” part of his pitching down yet, and that’s why the Cubs were able to pick him up for free off the waiver wire. What a group of guys our rotation/bullpen is shaping up to be.

Kohl Stewart

Fresh off the presses: Cubs “take a chance” on a failed 4th-overall 2013 draft pick with an average 4.79 ERA in the big leagues!

Other Cubs offseason “splashes”: Jonathan Holder, Dan Winkler, Phillip Ervin

Final Thought to End This Circus

Just sign Ian Happ, you chumps. Does this need to be said? Ian Happ is the only future piece you have for this team, the only one giving you offense, the only one doing fun stuff for the media, and is also running the most interesting podcast regularly featuring Cubs players.

Now you’re making him go into arbitration where you’re going to explain to an arbiter exactly why you think he doesn’t deserve the extra $900k? What does that do to morale? What is wrong with these people? Why is arbitration even allowed? I am appalled at this but will be excited to watch Happ play this season anyways.

Looks like I’ll be here regularly to break down what happens this upcoming season for Cubs baseball, so check back soon if you’re interested. Go Cubs go!

Baseball

Dreary Fridays lend themselves to notes and the like. So we’ll do that for baseball too today.

-As the Cubs still look for ways to dig under the luxury tax threshold like Fantastic Mr. Fox, one option that will probably gain steam (if it hasn’t already) is moving along Jose Quintana. It certainly wouldn’t cause the hysteria that a trade of Kris Bryant or Willson Contreras would. Q doesn’t have the same sheen as those in the eyes of Cubs fans, mostly because he walked into Theo Epstein’s office in July of 2017 with a shotgun and made him give up Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez for him, both of whom has since shot to multiple All-Star game appearances

Wait, I’m being told that’s not what happened. Huh.

Anyway, the actual act of finding takers for Quintana should be far easier than for Bryant and Contreras and their rightly astronomic prices. Quintana does make essentially nothing for this season–$10.5M–which for a #3 or #4 starter is still a bargain. and Q was a little better by some metrics than you might think, with a FIP under 4.00 and a fWAR of 3.5 (much higher than Darvish, to illustrate). Teams are going to want that.

Still, on the other side of the coin, there’s something more depressing about trading Q. With Bryant and to a lesser extent Contreras, while the main goal has always been the money there was a companion argument of replenishing the pipeline with some arms the Cubs simply don’t have and at least providing more that will be here after 2021. If you squinted, you could see the benefits of it while acknowledging they don’t come close to outweighing the drawbacks.

But with Q, you feel it’s just a salary dump. Surely you wouldn’t get anything in the rotation in return that was cheaper, unless it was a flier on some prospect or two. And they almost certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near major league ready. Which means you would have stripped your rotation even further, and the rotation wasn’t good enough last year after Hamels got hurt. Which means you rotation would be the Kyle Hendricks (pretty much a known at this point), the hope that Yu Darvish’s second half is the new normal, the four-to-five innings you’re getting out of Jon Lester at 36, and then praying to whatever god happens to be listening at that moment (hat tip to The Dag for that one, and also hit me up).

Doesn’t really feel like you’re going anywhere with that, does it?

Even sadder, there hasn’t been any mention of the Cubs getting below the the luxury tax this year so they can spring out ahead of it the following season with no repeater penalties, as the Yankees and Dodgers have done in recent years. You would think the theory was that by that time the money from Marquee would allow the Cubs to do that, except now the prevailing wisdom is that they’ve royally boned this whole network thing, sparked by not having a deal with Comcast yet, and that windfall might never actually come. Say, why does Crane Kenney still have a job?

The fear is that the Cubs will always want to be below the luxury tax, which means they might lose more than you already thought they were going to before the Free Agent-acolypse of the winter of ’21-’22. Or at least until we know what a new CBA looks like, which means the Cubs might be half-assing two seasons instead of one. That’s fun.

Of course, there’s always the hope the Cubs could make a baseball trade for Quintana, or at least use what little wiggle room it would give them to bolster this year’s roster with…well, maybe it’s best to not look at what’s still available. This was all well-timed.

-Kris Bryant and the Cubs settled for $18.6M and avoided arbitration. Hopefully this isn’t the last time they talk, and that money is going to seem a complete joke if he stays healthy all season and put up another 7-WAR season.

-Jayson Stark was having some fun today about predictions for the coming decade, and one idea I’ve kicked around here before. It’s bringing a modified DH to the NL and AL, where your DH stays in the game as long as your starter does. Basically instead of one guy hitting for a spot, he hits for a specific player. From there, you’d have to pinch-hit for every reliever or let them hit for themselves.

It seems to split the happy medium of those who cling to the “strategy” of the NL game and those who have no need to see pitchers hit anymore. How long do you leave your starter in? If he’s getting torched and has to go in the 2nd, how do you stretch your bench throughout the rest of the game? Would relievers who can go multiple innings be even more valuable? Could you leave in another DH for a reliever who does go two or three innings and whose spot comes up multiple times? Would this end the idea of an opener?

To me all those questions are kind of exciting. Certainly with a 26-man roster now the answers are a little more available. I hope this is what they go to soon.

-There’s also a bit about automated strike zones, and how they zone will probably have to be amended to deal with the strict interpretation that cameras would give you. I say “FUCK. THAT.” The example Stark uses is a pitch that nicks the bottom of the zone and a catcher catches an inch off the ground.

But that’s been the problem. Strike calls shouldn’t have anything to do with where the catcher catches it. Hitters shouldn’t even be looking at that, and neither should umps. That’s where the zone is, so adjust. It might lead to some ugly arguments or controversy for a couple months, but you’d get past it. I suppose it won’t be the end of the world if the zone is moved to the top of the knees or wherever, but the idea that we’ll all lose our shit because of where the catcher catches a pitch is the exact problem we’re trying to solve.

Baseball

We might have to start calling Rob Manfred “Baghdad Bob” soon.

Anyway, if you didn’t see this yesterday, here you go. That’s Ben Lindbergh summing up at how the baseball is different this postseason than it was in the regular season. And if that’s not enough, you can use Rob Arthur’s Twitter account to basically give you the same stuff. Or his own article on BP. Or, if you watched Will Smith crush that ball in the ninth of Game 5 against the Nats, flip his bat, assume he was about to be LA’s biggest hero for a night and dreaming of all the velvet ropes that would be cast aside for him, only to watch it gasp for air and then wheeze out of life on the warning track, you knew something was up. Hell, even Howie Kendrick’s series decider, which he was celebrating in the box, only scraped the other side of the wall. There are other examples in the division round, but clearly what players knew all season to be homer contact/sound isn’t quite that in October.

We just went through a regular season where homers were flying at record and downright silly rates. And no matter what team you root for, you can think of a couple by your guys that when they were hit you couldn’t believe went out. For me, Schwarber’s arms only flip to the opposite field for his third homer of the day in Milwaukee immediately springs to mind. And yet for months, MLB and Manfred clung to the excuse that Rawlings had been “centering the ball” better as a reason for the greater aerodynamics of the baseball being used.

They finally relented, as if we could just ignore the fact that MLB itself bought Rawlings last season and this was the first time they were making baseballs under that umbrella for MLB. An organization worried about the lack of offense in the game. So MLB wanted you to believe that it either had no control over HOW A COMPANY IT OWNS MANUFACTURED THE VERY STARTING POINT OF ITS GAME, or that these things just happened naturally.

However, with the ball seemingly changing for its most important games, MLB has basically told you that what went on in the regular season is, at least somewhat, farcical. What they’re telling you is that they were terrified of some ridiculous homer deciding a series, a season, turning the direction of one or two teams for years possibly. Which means they think that homers in the regular season weren’t worthy of that, or hence not fair, or not right. They’ve essentially, partially negated all that went on between the end of March and the end of September. They’ve provided their own asterisk, which is a word that makes every baseball fan make a “blech” sound.

It’s not all that different than the NHL throwing shootouts out of its regular season tiebreakers and moving to remove overtime results from them as well. They’re moving in the direction of saying, “Yeah that’s fun to watch and all them but it really shouldn’t count. That was a sideshow.”

In the end, both teams are using the same ball, so it’s not like one team gets an advantage out of it or anything. But again, MLB will want you to believe that this just happened and they didn’t do anything to change the ball. We of course know this is horseshit, unless they think we’re that stupid. And they might.

Still, we can assume that MLB hyperactivated its baseballs because it thought that’s what fans wanted. And then when the most fans are watching, they kind of made a constipated face and thought, “Yeah, that was all kind of stupid, huh?” Which gives one the idea that MLB doesn’t really know what its fans want or how to get new ones, as TV ratings and attendance keep trending the wrong ways.

Me? I’m more along the lines of homers being dramatic and rarer than the mere “holding serve” feeling they took on during this season. That doesn’t mean that’s what everyone should want or the way MLB should go. I honestly don’t know. I just enjoy watching an entire league basically admitting it fucked up and not having the stones to see it through when the most important matters are decided.

Either MLB is deceiving everyone, or it simply cannot regulate how the actual baseball is produced. Neither speaks to a terribly competent organization.

Baseball

As we head into the 2nd half of the season, the league is increasingly divided into two sections: sellers and buyers.  As has been the case since their 2015 World Series victory, the Royals find themselves solidly in the former category.  This year, however, they don’t really have a whole lot to offer playoff contenders except for Whit Merrifield, who would probably bring quite the ransom back to a team that is desperate to bring some excitement back to BBQ City.  Merrifield is having another great year for the Royals, getting his first ever All Star team selection last week.  He’s currently slashing .309/.360/.497 with 11 HR and 44 RBI, and has added 14 stolen bases to his line.  He plays primarily at 2B, but can be slotted anywhere on the field with plus defense at the majority of positions.  Were he to continue on this pace, he’d be worth 5.4 WAR at the end of the season.  On top of that, he’s signed to a team friendly contract with 3 more years of control to any team that could acquire his talents.

Yet therein lies the rub for any team looking in on his availability, as Royals GM Dayton Moore has already come out and said that he’s not planning on moving Merrifield as he means too much to the team and no one could possibly entice them to move him.  While this might just be a GM attempting to set the market impossibly high to sell his player, it seems more likely that Moore plans on building around Merrifield and other younger players.  The Royals already have the uber-exciting Adalberto Mondesi and Hunter Dozier having success up at the major league level in addition to Merrifield.

If this is truly the case, Dayton Moore either thinks that his rebuild will be far enough along in the next three years for the team to compete, or that Merrifield puts enough butts in the seats that it’s better for the Royals to keep him around and potentially see him walk in 3 years as opposed to flipping him at the deadline for a king’s ransom of young talent that could supercharge his team’s rebuild.

So which is it?  Looking a little closer at the numbers, it seems it’s neither.  As it stands right now, the Royals farm system ranks somewhere around 19th in the league after this years entry draft last month.  They have 3 top-100 prospects in addition to the dearth of youth currently playing at the major league level.  Were the Royals to move Merrifield they’d easily jump into the top 10, much like the Sox did with the Sale/Quintana/Eaton trades.  As far as league attendance goes, the Royals pulled in about 1.7 million last season, about 400,000 below the AL average.  This is a precipitous drop from 2016 (Merrifield’s first season in the majors) where the Royals drew 2.6 million.  This season has them at 850,000 thus far, which puts them in line with last year’s numbers.  So the idea that Merrifield puts asses in seats doesn’t really pan out either.

So looking at those numbers, the smart play for the Royals would be to move Merrifield to a team desperate for leadoff infield help.  Based on a quick glance at the contenders, he would be an instant upgrade for the Dodgers at second base solidifying an already terrifying lineup.  The Dodgers also have a top 10 farm system loaded with the kind of talent that could push the Royals rebuild up a few years.  The A’s farm system is also pretty well stocked, and could use an infield upgrade on the left side.  There should be no end of suitors for Merrifield’s services, but unless Dayton Moore has a huge change of heart (or some type of brain transplant) it looks as though he’s staying put in KC.  Which in the long run is best for the White Sox as a whole, since it pushes back their competitive window even further behind the one Rick Hahn is looking at.

Baseball

As far as GMs with the most name recognition in baseball, there are none more famous than Billy Beane.  There certainly aren’t any out there who are played by Brad Pitt in a major motion picture.  Yet what most people don’t realize is that Beane isn’t even the GM of the A’s anymore.  A few years back, Beane was promoted from GM of the A’s to president of baseball operations, and David Forst (his handpicked successor) was installed as GM.  For awhile Beane disappeared from the public eye as Forst gave more and more of the interviews.  This became even more noticeable when the A’s entered into a slide of 3 straight years of finishing at the bottom of the AL West.  Was Moneyball dead?  Was Beane full of shit all along?  Could the A’s pull themselves out of the cellar without a payroll of more than $30 million dollars?  Turns out the answer to all of those was an emphatic “maybe.”

The 2018 season for the A’s resulted in a gigantic turnaround that saw them finish six games behind the 2017 WS winners Houston and score themselves a wild card birth.  Granted, that wild card birth resulted in a 7-2 thrashing at the hands of the Yankees, but at least some life had been shown by the once scrappy team.  The A’s were able to claw themselves back into relevance with timely hitting and a loaded bullpen that was completely rebuilt by Beane and Forst in the previous offseason.  Subscribing to the formula made successful by Cleveland the previous year, they loaded up with Juerys Familia and Shawn Kelley.  They also had Blake Trienen and his career year anchoring them down in the 9th inning.  Fangraphs had them with the 6th best bullpen in the league with a total of 6.0 WAR.  Compared to the previous year when they were 23rd in the league with 1.9 in WAR.  That’s a gigantic turnaround, and (credit where its due) that’s due to some smooth moves by Forst and Beane.

This offseason he started out by prying super utility guy Jurickson Profar away from the Rangers, then adding even more to his misfit bullpen by signing Old Friend Jokim Soria to a 2 year deal.  He also attempted to shore up a weak looking rotation by signing Mike Fiers,  Brett Anderson and Marco Estrada to low cost deals.  He also signed Khris Davis to a long term extension, one of the most expensive contracts ever given out in his tenure with the A’s.

So where did signing all of these “Beane Guys” get them?  Well the A’s rotation, despite most fans needing google to identify most of them, has been one of the best in baseball.  Mike Fiers (yeah, that same guy who exploded Giancarlo Stanton’s jaw awhile back) threw a no hitter earlier, and Frankie Montas and Brett Anderson were on pace for career years. At least until Montas was busted for performance enhancing substances a few weeks back.  Davis is doing Khris Davis things, and the other found talents in his lineup (Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Josh Phegley) continue to hit for both power and average.  Even after all of these years, the A’s are still able to cobble together playoff-caliber teams from the spare parts of other clubs and this season appears to be no different.

All of the above are hallmarks of a Billy Beane-led team.  So while he may not be in front of the cameras now nearly as much as he used to be, his muppet David Forst is clearly still under his orders.  Nothing truly changes with Beane’s thrift shop approach to building and maintaining a MLB franchise.  There’s no doubt it’s had it’s successes, but wins have never translated into attendance for Oakland.  Granted, a fair amount of that blame can be put on their converted football stadium and the continuing haunting of the outfield by the ghost of Al Davis.  Some of that is just the lackadaisical approach to fandom most of the Bay Area takes to pro sports. I would pin most of it on his team’s reliability to flame out in the opening rounds of the MLB postseason.  As it stands right now the A’s are on a collision course with Tampa Bay, the team currently doing Moneyball better than the creator of it, and I would expect Oakland’s journey to end no differently than in past seasons.  You can practically set your watch to it.  So in the end, he can hide behind the scenes, but he can never truly escape the fact that to win in MLB these days, Moneyball alone gets you nothing but an average baseball movie starring Brad Pitt and the guy from the GIF making the “nah man, stop it” motion with his hand.

 

 

Baseball

You couldn’t have scripted a better baseball game than last night’s Cubs-Dodgers one to come on the same day as Ken Rosenthal wrote this on The Athletic. 10 runs scored, all on home runs. That goes along with the 17 strikeouts combined by each team, which these days isn’t even that high of a number. A lot of days one team reaches that on its own, but it’s not too hard to remember a day when that didn’t happen.

Many pundits and professional viewers have been complaining about the lack of action in baseball for a couple years now. And the numbers prove that it’s become a Three True Outcome game (homer, walk, strikeout). There are definitely less balls in play. And now we just have homers to make anything happen. We have more of them than we know what to do with. Or do we?

Certainly, over the past two seasons especially I’ve noticed how the game has changed. But would I notice as much if there weren’t writers like Rosenthal or Joe Sheehan (both of whom I really like, I have to point out) and many others (which I don’t) pointing it out seemingly daily? I might, but then I might not. But when you have someone screaming every day that “Nothing is happening in these games!!” surely you look more for the action that isn’t happening.

If I were in a vacuum, at least a media one, would the lack of balls in play really bother me? After all, I enjoy watching pitchers with overpowering stuff. It’s fun to watch someone blow 97 MPH by hitters or send them spiraling into the ground like that thing the Ninja Turtles used to get to the Earth’s core to bother Shredder and Krang with a deflector-shield curve/slider. And every baseball fan enjoys watching one of those get sent to the goddamn moon. They say that too much of a good thing is bad, but I’ve never been convinced. Sure, I love a bases loaded double or triple too, but were those all that common 10 years ago? Their uniqueness is what makes them special, at least in part. I’m not sure I get that bored of homers, and I don’t think I’m alone.

So do the baseballs being golf balls ruin my enjoyment? A touch, but rarely. Bellinger’s first homer last night felt a bit cheap, because even he didn’t think he hit it very well. And then it sails over the wall the opposite way in Dodger Stadium at night, which is supposed to be really hard to do. I’m biased, because I’m a Cubs fan who loathes the Dodgers and is starting to feel the same way about Bellinger individually, but that was one that had me looking side-eyed at. But I don’t find myself doing that too often. The explosion of homers doesn’t feel like Wrigley with the wind blowing out, where harmless flies are carried out as hitters slam their bats down and then sheepishly jog around the bases. You can’t base anything on feel, but it feels like it’s just well hit balls that probably would have gone out anyway going even farther out.

The only thing about the juiced-ball that I find strange is MLB throwing its hands up and claiming to not know anything about it or not having anything to do with it. They’re either lying or stupid, possibly both. How could you not be in total control of like, the entire center of the game? And if weren’t then why aren’t you now? Hell, the NFL went to war with one of its own franchises over the condition of its ball, and that’s a sport where they let teams control their owns spheres/spheroids.

Do fans care about there being too many homers? I wonder. Sure, attendance and viewership is down, and maybe that’s the only argument you need. But that could just as easily be about so many teams not even trying, and one of your truly good teams playing in Tampa. What would Baltimore’s attendance be if they had the Rays team? I’m not sure there’s a large swath of fans who have been turned off because there’s a lot of homers. Football has a lot of touchdowns, doesn’t seem to bother them much.

I guess my other complaint about a juiced ball is it doesn’t fit in with the natural evolution of the game. We know hitters are trying to lift the ball more, pitchers throw harder, shifting defenses, all that. So if more homers were only due to that, you would just say that’s how the game has grown and eventually will shift again when more pitchers are at the top of the zone and more hitters have to work with the open spaces they have. The game using a Titlelist as a ball causes all of that to be slowed or stopped completely, because more guys can just hit it over shifts and walls, deservedly or not. Homers would be on the rise without the Slazengers because of a change of style, but they wouldn’t be like this and it wouldn’t feel as artificial.

It’s funny, because writers like Rosenthal bemoan how attendance is down and baseball is falling behind, and then spend just as much space telling you why the game sucks. And I’ll agree with them that it is fun to watch players like Baez run the bases or Kiermaier or even Bellinger make plays in the field. And they’re getting less chance to do so. But you wonder how many defensive plays that bring people out of their seats are being sacrificed for homers that also bring people out of their seats. After all, more balls in play will result in routine fly balls far more than the diving catch in the gap or the nailing of a runner at second. I would take some convincing that this is what the routine fan is crying out for.

Something tells me a normal baseball would still see a lot of home runs being hit. After all, these are better athletes than they’ve ever been with faster bat-speed turning around pitches that are being hurled at greater speeds than ever before. It’s probably easier to get a 95-MPH fastball to go far than an 88-MPH one.

I notice games like last night’s now, and I definitely remark how different it is than what I grew up with. I don’t know that has to be a bad thing, and I don’t know how much I’d notice if everyone wasn’t yelling for me to notice. I guess I’m undecided, and I would guess most fans are too, despite what those with the pens and microphones keep telling us to think.

 

Everything Else

It’s been a while since we’ve gotten goofy before a weekend, so let’s do that! It’s Opening Day next week, and it promises to be at least an interesting season on both sides of town. This also might, might foreshadow some other things coming to this blog in the next few weeks, but I’ll get to that in the coming days. For now, let’s just talk some baseball!

Cubs: Well, I already did this, and you can read it at Baseball Prospectus. But essentially, in a nutshell, after an offseason that became more hellish by choice than it ever should have, the Cubs are still going to hit a lot, they’re still going to have a very good to better than that rotation (assuming health as it’s all over 30), and you can always remake a bullpen on the fly if you have to. They’re winning 92-95 games again, which I can’t decide if it’s a good thing or not because nothing should ever prove Tom Ricketts right. We’ll run that kitten over when we get to it. ;

Now the fun part….I asked Adam Hess, McClure, and Fifth Feather to do a Q&A on their beloved 35th St. Nine. Here you go:

White Sox

Now that the dust has settled on the offseason, let’s focus on what’s here. What does Yoan Moncada‘s shift to third mean? They don’t think he can play second? Will he hit enough to be on a corner?

Hess: The biggest thing I think it means is that they’re preparing to rush 2018 first round pick Nick Madrigal to the majors. There are some scouts who would call his hit tool MLB caliber already, and it did get 70 grades after all, and his bat-to-ball skills are great. And he’s got the right attitude, I suppose. But I think it has very little to do with Moncada’s ability at second – he had the range for it, just needed to soften the hands. Maybe they’re hoping the hot corner will reduce thinking time as the ball comes at him and reduce his necessary movement and therefore cut down the errors. I can’t really call it. In terms of hitting, I think he will hit fine for the hot corner. His problem isn’t the bat, it’s not swinging it. He took so many called third strikes last year because he thinks he has the best eye in baseball, but umpires were doing him no favors. He was a .400 hitter before the count got to two strikes. If he can keep himself ahead in the count, he should mash.

Feather: Do we have to focus on what’s here? It seems more like a threat than anything else. Fine…Moncada’s shift to third basically signals to me they want to push Madrigal through the system as quickly as possible, perhaps with an eye on a September call-up depending on how his minor league season goes. Moncada can certainly play second if you’re willing to live with the occasional error or 20 as his range is better than most at the position. In an ideal situation you’d have Machado at 3rd and Moncada at 2nd to create an incredibly dynamic power line up. God damn it. Now I’m going to be red and nude again. Moncada has the power profile to play at 3rd. It’s really a matter of whether or not his off-season training to be more aggressive in the batter’s box pays off and he cuts down on his incredibly high number of backwards K’s.  

Now that Eloy is signed and can actually be here for Opening Day instead of whatever bullshit reason they would have used to keep him in the minors for two weeks, what are you expecting?

McClure:  I think the first trip around the league is going to be rougher than many are anticipating for Eloy, I think his much lauded contact rate isn’t going to be commensurate with what he’s put up before in the minors, but he’s shown that he learns real quick. But when he does get ahold of one it’s going to be on the Dan Ryan. If you’re looking for an actual prediction, I spose I’ll go with a .250/.325/.425 slash line with 18 homers, assuming he plays 140ish games.

Feather:I’m expecting him to be Frank Thomas reincarnate. Is that too much to ask? With that profile in mind, let’s say .275/.350/.490 with 25 homers and 80 RBIs because no one is getting on base for him. If he’s not on the opening day roster after his new contract, I will absolutely light myself on fire in effigy in front of Rick, Jerry and Kenny. Can’t release Nicky Delmonico without giving him a chance to prove himself, after all.   

Who is one player who might surprise and keep himself around when the Sox are contenders again?

Hess: To me it’s Yolmer Sanchez, who is a useful utility knife in the infield. He’s capable of playing 2nd, 3rd, and even short in a pinch, is a switch hitter, and can swipe the occasional bag. He doesn’t have much pop, but he can get you a .300 or better OBP, and when they’re good again, that entire profile will be more than acceptable from a bench infielder.

McClure: As stated above, I do quite enjoy Yolmer, and think he’s a much more natural second baseman than a third baseman, and he showed some traditional top of the lineup capabilities last year with 34 doubles and 10 triples, even though his on base rate was lacking a little. That 2nd baseman spot is basically there for whenever Nick Madrigal is ready, but Yolmer certainly looks like he can be a valuable utility contributor on a good team.

Will Lucas Giolito‘s new delivery keep him from walking the park?

Hess: God, I really hope so. I think somewhere inside Giolito is the pitcher who was earning a 70 overall grade from MLB scouts and considered the top pitching prospect in baseball as recently as 2016. Some combination of awkwardness from being so damn tall, and the unfortunate reality of “this is just how it goes when you’re a White Sox” has ruined that, and any chance of him hitting the ceiling scouts once envisioned is gone. But with Kopech and Dylan Cease around as your potential 1/2 duo (in either order, really, because they’re both studs), if you can still get production from Giolito worthy of the fourth spot in a rotation, I think their rotation will be hard to hit. But there’s a lot more cynicism on Gio’s future for me now than a year ago.

McClure: It’s now going on 3 years removed for Giolito’s “top prospect” status, and last year he couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo even when he was trying to throw strikes. Hitters are going to stand up there with a bat on their shoulder at first and force him to find the plate, and then IF he shows that he can, they’re going to sit on his fastball, which isn’t particularly electric with either velocity or movement. Giolito seems like a smart guy in interviews, so in order to have any kind of career in the majors, he might have to switch from being a “stuff” guy all his life at 6’5″ 230, and have to actually learn how to pitch and set hitters up with sequencing. But again, this is all under the assumption that he’ll get within half a parsec of the plate, which is far from given.

Feather: It better. I can’t imagine he has much rope this season after setting a new ERA high or whatever embarrassing record he set. With Dylan Cease looming and a couple other interesting rotation pieces in Charlotte, Giolito may be the first casualty of the rebuild if he can’t improve even in the slightest. Which is too bad because as Matt mentioned, he seems like a really nice guy who GETS IT. 

Ok so the winter wasn’t what you’d hoped. But this division pretty much sucks. Couldn’t the Sox hiccup a few more wins than expected simply because of that?

Hess: I mean, they absolutely can wind up winning 70 games instead of 62 again. They probably have the best bullpen in the division, which is huge. But I don’t think this division is bad enough for them to even flirt with .500 barring some huge breakout seasons – from just about everyone. Tim Anderson would need to finally get his OBP above .300. Yoan would need to swing the bat and rake like I suggested he can. Eloy probably needs to hit .300 and mash 40. Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Carlos Rodon would all have to be reliable. Is that all possible? Sure. But the odds of it all lining up are slim to none. The unfortunate reality is even if they managed to get their dicks out of their hands and ultimately landed Machado, that probably wouldn’t have made them more than a 75-win team. Their biggest need is starting pitching, and while I’m sure they’re optimistic and hopeful about who they have, they have to know it’s not good enough to compete, at least not yet. I picture them moreso being in the top-5 of the draft again next year.

McClure: They might be able to, but it’s still not going to get them anywhere even if the rest of this division is utter trash. There’s just not enough pitching here with Kopech unavailable for a year even if every single young bat performs to or exceeds expectations. 

Feather: Yes, and the fact their bullpen is much improved. They absolutely could stumble into the 70-80 win territory based on that alone. Last year, their bullpen was Jace Fry and 11 guys doing things. They brought in Kelvin Herrera and Alex Colome which should at the very least give Ricky more than one option in the 7th, 8th or 9th. With Detroit and KC throwing out rosters with dead guys on them, their win total SHOULD improve. But this is the White Sox we’re discussing. So Herrera will most certainly suck, Colome will blow 30% of his save opportunities and Ron Gardenhire will somehow squeeze 85 wins out of a pathetic Tigers squad that wins 19 of 21 from the Sox. This is how it works now!

 

Everything Else

Even though it’s an abnormal October in that we should be getting ready for the start of the season in just over a week, it’s business as usual as October won’t see any playoff baseball in the 606. That’ll be the fourth straight year that has occurred, after seeing at least one team pop its head in for a look five out of seven seasons. For Chicago, that’s an avalanche of postseason play. But with no hockey, you’ve got to fill the time somehow.